(CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he's looking forward to President Obama's upcoming visit to Israel: "It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel," said Netanyahu, who has had a strained relationship with Obama so far.
"I deeply appreciate something that President Obama has said repeatedly...'Israel must always be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat to its existence,' Netanyahu told the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) policy conference in Washington on Monday. "The Jewish people know the cost of being defenseless against those who would exterminate us. We will never let that happen again."
Netanyahu said that he and Obama have agreed to discuss three issues, first and foremost, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
As Iran continues to defy the will of the international community, Netanyahu said it's clear that neither diplomacy nor sanctions has worked. He said Iran is using negotiations to run out the clock as it presses ahead with its nuclear ambitions:
"Sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard," Netanyahu said, "but Iran's leaders, they just grit their teeth and they move forward. Iran enriches more and more uranium, it installs faster and faster centrifuges. It's still not crossed the red line I drew with the United Nations last September, but Iran is getting closer to that red line and it's putting itself in a position to cross that line very quickly once it decides to do so."
Netanyahu told the United Nations last year that the red line -- which he illustrated on a graph -- involves Iran completing the second stage of uranium enrichment, bringing it to 90 percent.
"Ladies and gentlemen, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons we cannot allow Iran to cross that red line. We have to stop its nuclear enrichment program before it's too late. And I have to tell you, from the bottom of my heart and with the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."
Netanyahu said he and Obama also have agreed to discuss the deteriorating situation in Syria. Of prime concern to Israel is Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, all of which could fall into the hands of terrorists. "Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are trying to seize these weapons as we speak," Netanyahu said. "You know, they're like a pack of hyenas feeding off a carcass and the carcass isn't even dead yet. These terror groups are committed to Israel's destruction. They've repeatedly attacked the United States."
Peace with the Palestinians is the third agenda item for Obama and Netanyahu: "Now, that peace must be grounded in reality and it must be grounded in security. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, we withdrew from Gaza, we gave up territory, we got terror. We cannot allow that to happen a third time. Israel is prepared for a meaningful compromise, but as Israel's prime minister I will never compromise on our security."
Any peace with the Palestinians must be defensible, and it must include Israel's neighbors "educating their children to live in peace," the Israeli prime minister said.
President Obama's first trip to Israel as a sitting president is scheduled to happen on March 19.
According to the Associated Press, the trip may help the two men re-set their chilly relationship.
Tensions between the two leaders emerged early in Obama's first term. On one visit to Washington, Netanyahu lectured the president on the pitfalls of peacemaking, and gave a speech to Congress in which he appeared to be rallying support against Obama. And Netanyahu's election-season praise for Romney, a longtime friend of the Israeli leader, irked the White House, the AP reported.
Obama and Netanyahu also have differed on key policies, including Israel's continued settlement building in the Palestinian territories and plans for responding to Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu has pressed for swift action, including perhaps a military attack, against Iran, whose leaders have called for Israel's destruction. Israeli leaders have also said they could use military force against Iran unilaterally without first alerting Washington, despite the likelihood that the U.S. would be drawn into the conflict that could follow.
Obama's preference for using economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, not military force, against Iran has also raised suspicions in Israel about his level of support for the Jewish state.